Service personnel to help archaeologists as year of excavations at Vindolanda Roman fort begins

By Ben Miller | 26 March 2015

Roman archaeological site to play important part in recovery of personnel injured in Afghanistan

An overhead photo of a lush green archaeological terrain intersected by sand and stone
A season of excavations is about to begin at Vindolanda© Vindolanda Trust
When the annual excavations begin at the archaeologically fertile Northumberland Roman fort of Vindolanda this weekend, an operation in the late 4th century barrack blocks, codenamed Exercise Mars Tablet and focusing on the south-east quadrant where an incredibly rare gold coin was found last year, will enlist military help.

Organisers the Vindolanda Trust have given ten places on the quest to members of Operation Nightingale, an initiative for serving personnel and veterans who have sustained physical and mental injuries in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

‘They will be involved in everything we do,” says Dr Andrew Birley, the Director of Excavations.

“There will be challenges for individuals and for us as a team. We are aware that one gentleman has no upper limbs due to his combat injuries and another is registered blind.

A photo of two people digging stone for archaeological artefacts on a sunny day
2014 was an outstanding year of discoveries for the archaeology team at Vindolanda© Vindolanda Trust
“But support is in place to ensure that all participants can gain as much as possible from the experience within their individual abilities.

“As well as introducing the skills of excavation, surveying, artefact handling and recording, the volunteers at Vindolanda also foster mutual support, lasting friendships and take away with them some of the pride and passion which Vindolanda has in abundance.”

The Defence Archaeology Group exists to promote the recuperative possibilities of digging.

“Our programme uses archaeology as a pathway to their recovery, giving individuals something useful and rewarding to do which in turn can help them rebuild their self-esteem,” says Sergeant Diarmaid Walshe, the Project Manager of the group – a committed archaeologist who says the collaboration is “very fortunate” at a “unique” site.  

A photo of a group of people sitting around after excavating a grassy Roman fort site
The trust relies on visitors to fund its archaeological investigations© Vindolanda Trust
“It provides them with a sense of purpose and gives them something positive to strive for.

“It also has the added benefit of providing a focus to both our service personal and veterans to put something back into the community as a way of showing their gratitude for all the public support shown to them.”

Extending the sense of mutual appreciation, the public will be welcome to visit the excavations, with free admission offered to serving personnel.

Hundreds of volunteers are expected to join this year’s excavations at Vindolanda, which will run until September 25.


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More from Culture24's coverage of Vindolanda:

"Blockbuster" exhibition to tell tales of Roman cavalry archaeology found along Hadrian's Wall

Archaeologists find 2,000-year-old wooden toilet seat used by Romans at Vindolanda fort

Archaeologists hope to discover more Roman writing tablets at Vindolanda Roman Fort
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Am thrilled to say that we are visiting Vindolanda in september. Can't wait!
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